How to Recognize Opioid Abuse in Loved Ones

Friends discussing opioid abuse in loved ones

Contributor: Megan Wilson, BS, CADC, Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center

You may be concerned about opioid abuse in loved ones. Examples of opioids are heroin, morphine, codeine, and other prescription pain medications. These substances come in several different forms and can be used orally, intravenously, smoked, or snorted. Opioids could be obtained by a prescription from a doctor or bought from a dealer.

Opioid Statistics

Man looking at the water sad about Opioid Abuse in Loved Ones

According to research from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there are age groups that more frequently use opioids than others. Individuals who are between the ages of 18-25 are the highest population of reported heroin users and pain reliever abusers. [2]

Even though there is a higher percentage among a certain age group, opioid abuse can surface at any age. This abuse could begin as taking medications more frequently than prescribed or taking someone else’s medications.

Signs of Opioid Abuse in Loved Ones

There are several signs that might indicate that someone is experiencing opioid intoxication or opioid withdrawal. The awareness of these symptoms could assist with determining if a loved one is under the influence or is abusing opioids.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders outlines opioid intoxication to include problematic behaviors or psychological changes (such as mood shifts between euphoria to apathy, feeling uneasy or dissatisfied, impaired judgement, or fidgeting or slowed movements), constricted pupils, drowsiness, slurred speech, and impairment in attention or memory [1].

The individual may struggle to remain alert during conversations and subsequently nod out or appear drowsy. Other than noticing physical symptoms of intoxication, you may be able to determine a loved one is using by the withdrawal symptoms.

The DSM-V states withdrawal symptoms to include nausea, vomiting, muscle aches, diarrhea, sweating, or fever. These symptoms resemble ones that are experienced during the flu. It would not be uncommon for someone who is struggling with an opioid addiction to claim that they have the flu when questioned by loved ones.

Behaviors of Those Struggling with Opioid Addiction

Man standing on mountain struggling with addiction

In addition to physical symptoms, you may notice behavioral changes. There may be missing items from the home that ended up being pawned or sold for money.

The items sold may start out with the possessions of the individual struggling with opioid use and then extend to the property of others. Included within these items are your prescribed opioids.

If you suspect a loved one is struggling with opioid abuse, it may be in everyone’s best interest to ensure that your prescriptions are locked up or hidden. The theft of household items may escalate to robbery, burglary, or forgery. You may also notice changes in physical appearance such as a decreased interest in attending to hygiene.

Overdose Awareness

In addition to securing prescription medications, it will be helpful to be aware of overdose symptoms. When someone is experiencing an opioid overdose, they will present with pinpoint pupils, respiratory depression, and unconsciousness.

They may also vomit and appear to have blue skin. There is a medication called naloxone that can assist with reversing an opioid overdose. Naloxone comes in different forms that are either approved for medical professionals or for family members.

You can search online to find out if you are located in an area that offers over-the-counter naloxone. If you ever have a suspicion that someone is overdosing, contact emergency professionals immediately.


[1] American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).
Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
[2] Abuse, N. I. (2017, July 06). Opioids. Retrieved from

About the Author:

Megan Wilson photo

Megan Wilson, BS, CADC has been working at Timberline Knolls since 2013.  She facilitates psycho-educational group therapy, completes substance use assessments, and takes on the leadership role of the Addictions Specialist team.

She also individually meets with residents to support a better understanding and application of 12-step recovery.

Thank you to Timberline Knolls for providing this article.

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Timberline Knolls is a leading residential treatment center for women and adolescent girls, ages 12 and older, with eating disorders, substance abuse, trauma, mood and co-occurring disorders. Located in suburban Chicago, residents receive excellent clinical care from a highly trained professional staff on a picturesque 43-acre wooded campus. An adult partial hospitalization program (PHP) is also available in nearby Orland Park, Ill., for women to step down or direct admit. For more information on Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center, call 630-755-5173. We are also on Facebook – Timberline Knolls, LinkedIn – Timberline Knolls and Twitter – @TimberlineToday.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental, and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on October 2, 2017
Reviewed and Updated by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 12, 2021
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About Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Jacquelyn Ekern founded Addiction Hope in January, 2013, after experiencing years of inquiries for addiction help by visitors to our well regarded sister site, Eating Disorder Hope. Many of the eating disorder sufferers that contact Eating Disorder Hope also had a co-occurring issue of addiction to alcohol, drugs, and process addictions.